After a year without diving, I found myself headed to Malapascua, a little island off the North of Cebu, Philippines for my first diving trip since 2010! Thresher Sharks and a quiet island with sun, sand and sea, I was totally looking forward to this little break.
This is also the first dive trip that I did with a group called Scubaddiction. They’re a small group, very casual-like so it’s like travelling with a bunch of friends, and they were all doing leisure dives this time around (i.e. no one was on course) so it was a pretty relaxing and fun trip all around. Great people =)
Malapascua is not the most convenient place to get to – after a 3 hr flight, it’s another 3.5 hrs by car, and then another half to 1 hour’s journey by boat before you reach there! My Tiger Airways flight was at 820am so I was awake at 5am to get to the airport on time to check in. There’s no food on budget airlines, so we had only ate lunch at the airport when we arrived, but the kitchen took so long to serve our food that we were delayed by more than an hour!
It was another loooonngg ride in a mini van (thankfully spacious – 5 of us in a 10-seater) where we wound North through the hills and villages. There were some additional delays from getting stuck behind street processions on a Good Friday (Philippines is a largely Catholic country) and by the time we reached the jetty in the village of Maya, it was close to 5pm already.
It was low tide, which meant a little wading through seaweed and shin deep waters to get to the little boat, which then ferried us out to the larger boat. A point to note for anyone making the crossing to Malapascua in the evening – the waters are CHOPPY, so be prepared, especially if your bags are not waterproof. I’d recommend shorts and a poncho because the boat they use has barely any protection from the wind and sea-spray, so you can get quite wet. On the way back we travelled in the morning – the waters were much calmer and the journey was shorter too – about half an hour.
By the time we reached the island, it was close to 6pm – so from Singapore it took almost half a day from the time I woke up just to get to Malapascua! I knew it would take awhile, but man that was LONG.
You can check out my travel research here – if you’re looking to maximize your dive time and time on the island, Cebu Pacific Air’s timings will probably give you the best bang for your buck!
We were booked at Blue Corals Beach Resort which is located in the southern part of the island. It’s quite a distinct blue building and elevated, so there’s a nice sea view from where my room was on the 2nd level.
Rooms are pretty basic – we had 2 double beds with a balcony and an attached toilet. Word is they recently refurbished and added a hot water heater and aircon in the room, and there’s wifi too (though only in the main area, not accessible in the rooms). I enjoyed the balcony and its sea view, and they’ve thoughtfully strung up 2 clothes lines to hang up your wet dive gear as well. They pretty much leave you to yourself once you check in, so if you want your floor wiped of sand or new towels, you’ll have to ask them at the reception.
While I thought the amenities were quite adequate, one thing to remember is that Malapascua is an island and there is limited fresh water and electricity – the first day we were there, the plumbing had some problems and we were stuck without water for most of the day (thank god we had put some water in a bucket!). The next day, the electricity was cut for a couple of hours as well, so just be prepared for some inconveniences.
There’s a restaurant/bar located in the resort itself, though we never did have any meals there. You might have to put up with some pumping loud music – there was some pretty loud club music blasting on the Friday night we were there! Bring ear plugs just in case…
Our dives (and our whole trip actually) was organized by Thresher Shark Divers, located right on the beach and just 100m from our rooms at Blue Coral. They’re pretty professional and have great dive guides – we did 12 in total over 4 days (13 for the others, our flight was leaving earlier so we stopped earlier) and had a very good experience with them.
Weather was also pretty great, at least for the first 2 days. One thing about Cebu is that their seas are the most awesome blue! It tended to rain in the afternoon, but it was usually a tropical storm that would blow over by the time dinner rolled around. The waters in general were quite warm – I didn’t bother with my wet suit, instead just diving with my rash guard and board shorts, though if you’re sensitive to jellyfish you better suit up!
The main purpose of diving in Malapascua is to see their famed Thresher sharks – we spent two mornings waking up at 4am just to make these sunrise dives at Monad Shoal/Shark Point to catch these elusive creatures! Thresher sharks only come up to the cleaning stations (at 30m) in the early hours, and spend the rest of their time much deeper in the water. While my group didn’t see any on the first day (sad!) we lucked out and had 3 sightings on the second day’s dives, including one almost immediately upon descent into the water!
Check out my video of a Thresher shark circling right in front of us! I was often so mesmerized by them I’d forget to take pix and video…
But other than Threshers, there’s also some great diving to be done at Malapascua!
Besides Shark Point, Monad Shoals also has a Manta Point where you can see giant Manta Rays at their cleaning stations. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to see a Manta even with 2 dives there, even though it seems like everyone else at least caught a glimpse of the Manta, and someone even caught a quick video of it!
There’s Gato Island (Spanish for Cat, which its supposed to look like, but I don’t think we were looking at it from the right angle cause I didn’t see it) which is a marine reserve and sea snake sanctuary. There was a lot of marine life at this spot which we dived at 3 times, the most exciting being entering a shallow cave with a bunch of white-tipped reef sharks circling in the dark! I’ve seen lots of sharks, but this is the first time I’ve been so up close with them in an enclosed space.
We didn’t get to see the famed Dona Marilyn wreck due to bad weather and a busted GPS, though we did visit another wreck called Tapilon wreck, an old World War II ship which apparently still had bones in it (someone saw a femur! eek!). That was pretty memorable because the seas were really choppy that day, and if you didn’t watch yourself, you would find yourself drifting out into the deep blue…
We also had some pretty good muck diving (for the non-divers, that’s when your sea floor is covered mostly with sand as opposed to coral) at Chocolate Island and Bantigue as well.
Here are some of the critters that I saw! Am still working on my underwater photography so pardon some of the crappy shots…
Here are all the dive sites we went to. You can cross reference them at TSD’s site here
The dive package came with breakfast which we ate at their house restaurant Oscar’s, located above TSD dive centre. We had our lunches there as well (not part of package, but price ranges from 200 – 400 pesos all in) were mostly spent there as well, and they can pack a sandwich set (300 pesos – drink + sandwich + fruit) for longer dive journeys.
For dinners we would walk to Kokay’s Maldito Grill and Restobar just behind our resort. It’s the house restaurant of that same named resort, and looks like one of the newer places on the island. The menu was quite extensive, covering western and Filipino food, and had a lounge area, pool and foosball table, so we ended up spending all our dinners there. Seems like a pretty nice place – they look like they were expanding, and apparently there’s an in-house masseuse as well!
The great thing about both places is the free wifi (cue everyone pulling out their phones), but one thing to note is that if you have a large group like we did (16 of us), service can be a bit slow and will depend on how fast your waitress puts her order into the kitchen, as well as the chef’s mood for the day – you could have ordered the same food as someone at your table and your orders would arrive seperately. Just have a little patience with them and order some SMB (that’s San Miguel Beer to you) to pass the time.
Food there isn’t actually super cheap – meals on average are ‘tourist priced’, and because you’re on an island there isn’t that much other option. You could probably get cheaper food if you venture into the village, but we were a big group and not feeling that adventurous so we ate at the same places all the time.
Other random Malapascua facts:
– Mosquito hour apparently happens from 4 – 6pm, oddly enough the mosquitoes don’t bother you throughout the rest of the day!
– There are no ATMs on the island! Bring enough small change because you’ll need to tip the porters and your dive guides. You can use credit cards to pay for your dives and all, but there’s a 5% surcharge
– Buy a large 1L bottle of mineral water before you come to the island. When you’re done drinking it, you can get it refilled for 10 pesos at Oscar’s! Not sure if the other places had a similar arrangement…
– Stray dogs and cats there roam around quite freely. They’re not fierce, but they can be quite persistent, so just beware if you’re afraid of animals!